All of your electronic devices sounded off today. A nationwide test of the federal emergency alert system started broadcasting around 2:20 p.m. EDT to cellphones, televisions and radios across the United States. The test occurred simultaneously in every time zone coast to coast. If your television or radio were turned on when the test occurred you should have seen or heard an alert message.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency conducted Wednesday's test in coordination with the Federal Communications Commission. Emergency alert messages that made up the test were divided into two groups; the Emergency Alert System for radios and televisions, and the Wireless Emergency Alerts for wireless phones;though both happened at once.
Today's test was conducted to evaluate the technological capabilities of the national alert system to reach and inform as many people as possible in case of a widespread emergency. A backup date of Wednesday, Oct. 11, was scheduled in case other emergencies, like extreme weather, prevented it from going forward as planned on Oct. 4.
During the half-hour test, wireless phones that were turned on, not in "airplane mode" and compatible with the alerts should have received a test message, as long as they were located within a certain range of an active cell tower and their wireless provider participates in FEMA's wireless alert system, the agency said. All major wireless providers participate in the system. Some older devices may not be compatible with wireless alerts.
Since 2015, FEMA has been required under federal law to test the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System at least once every three years, and those tests can involve the Emergency Alert System, wireless alert system, and other alerts and warnings.
Spokespeople from FEMA and the FCC said both agencies are confident the emergency alert system works as intended for television and radio broadcasts as well as mobile phones. Today's test allowed them to gather valuable information from the companies that participated.
The results of the test are required to be reported to the commission whether they received the alerts, whether they were able to transmit it back out to the public, whether they encountered any technical issues in the course of sending those alerts out, and the FCC then analyzes that information to determine any opportunities of improvement of the system as a whole," the spokesperson continued, noting that a similar evaluation process will happen between the FCC and the nine largest U.S. wireless providers that participated in the test.